Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Double Feature: The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina and Q&A with the author

Today, we have another double feature. We have a review for The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina and an interview with the author, M. Padilla.

Inspired by their good-natured rivalry, career-oriented best friends Julia Juarez and Ime Benevides have never let anything come between them. Then enters Julia's new coworker, Ilario, who pulls both women's heartstrings, disrupts their friendship, and brings Julia's career to the brink of disaster.

Looking for support, Julia turns to her other friends: Concepción, a party-obsessed dance instructor; Nina, a timid but shrewd seamstress who's not too taken with her fiancé; and Marta, owner of the Revolutionary Cantina, who is preoccupied with the details of a Hollywood murder case. When they involve Julia in a risky scheme, she must choose between her loyalty to her friends and a chance to live the life she's worked so hard to achieve.

Boasting irreverent, edgy humor and a clear sense of Southern Californian culture, this hilarious, insightful debut novel by award-winning author M. Padilla brilliantly captures the comforts and dangers of friendship.

Reviewed by: Elsie Contreras-Gonzalez

Review: When first starting to read The Girls at the Revolutionary Cantina, I expected a common cliché of women enjoying the camaraderie of friendship over drinks. However, once the plot thickened, I became attached to the characters and their different personalities. The Girls at the Revolutionary Cantina filled me with laughter, delight, and surprise.

The novel revolves around Julia Juarez, a sales representative for a security firm, who faces an unruly challenge when her best friend Ime begins dating her boss, Ilario. Once this happened, I anticipated a "love-triangle" romance, but the author, Padilla, certainly changed that expectation. Tension builds within the friendship as the story unfolds. Julia learns just what type of best friend Ime turns out to be.

Julia begins to admit her own feelings for Ilario while spending time with the other girls at the Revolutionary Cantina. The other three ladies - Marta, the bar owner; Concepcion, a fun-loving dance instructor; and Nina, the quiet seamstress. Each woman has her distinctive features which adds depth, humor, and insight about living as a Latina in the San Fernando Valley. Their lives are engaging, and their involvement in the murder scandal with Latino actor, Diego Ramirez, adds a bit of suspense to the novel.

The novel is a true test of friendship for each character because they all face challenges regarding choices. Themes of ambition, loyalty, friendship, and culture frequently surface throughout this book. My expectations were met by a twist of irony. I truly expected a "friends forever, no matter what" type of ending, but this debut novel features a much different conclusion. It is remarkable because Julia ultimately discovers her independence.

Honestly, I felt sad and thankful once I finished the book, because I will miss the characters, but glad I got to "know" them.

And now a Q&A with M. Padilla.

Can you please tell us a little bit about the kinds of books you write and how your culture affects your craft?

My writing ranges from serious drama to brisk comedy, but all my work has at its center a Latina or Latino protagonist. My parents, who came from Mexico to make a life in the United States in the '50s, were committed to assimilating as Americans quickly, and so many of the things that I found interesting about my family stemmed from their experience as immigrants.

Some of my fondest memories as a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area come from when my Spanish-speaking relatives from Los Angeles and Mexico would come to visit. The women in particular were incredibly funny. They brought a kind of energy to our household that was so different from what I was used to. I was a sponge for their stories and jokes, and I loved the way they relentlessly teased each other. Their voices were a big inspiration for The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina.

Please describe the Latina heroine(s) in your book.

The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina is the story of a group of Mexican-American women living in California's San Fernando Valley. It's about what happens when things like career aspirations and romantic relationships start to take a toll on the friendships you thought was going to last a lifetime. Julia, my heroine, is a hardworking Chicana struggling to achieve security in what she believes to be a very insecure world. After several misfires, her career is finally starting to take off. However, her friends from childhood, for the first time, begin to become hindrances to her success, and she must begin to reevaluate her relationships with them. She also must find a new way to feel secure in the world rather than relying on these same friends; she must start to learn to stand on her own two feet.

Who is your intended audience, if any?

When I began writing The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina when I didn't have a particular audience in mind. I set out to tell a story about a Chicana not unlike the women in my own life - career-oriented, fun-loving and passionate about living. My hope is that women who read Cantina will see some of their own struggle in the character of Julia.

Since publication, the book has been marketed largely to women, but many men have said they enjoyed the book as well. Several people have told me that they lost sleep because they could not put the book down. I hope my novel could be enjoyed by anyone who likes a fast-paced, funny story.

How do you feel your books influence Latinas?

The strongest reactions to any of my work have come from women who see themselves in the pages of the things I write. I think it's important to see your culture reflected in the pages of literature and in the media. It's a powerful reminder of the things we share within a culture and of the things we share that are universal across cultures.

What do you think the future holds for today’s Latina?

I hope that, like the characters in my novel, Latinas today are coming to feel greater freedom in how they define themselves. When I was growing up, the roles for Latinas that I saw tended to be wife and mother and caretaker. Latina women have more and more options available to them and can more fluidly than ever move between roles at different times of their lives. Being Latina or Latino itself is becoming a more and more fluid thing. How assimilated to be or not to be, how traditional or not traditional - these are things one can choose, and I think technology is playing a role in opening up all those possibilities to women everywhere and bringing them together so they can draw strength from their numbers.

What are some of your favorite Latina authors and why?

There are so many, but among the writers who influenced me early on were Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez, and more recently Alisa Valdez Rodriguez and Mary Castillo.

Do you have a website or a blog?

Yes, my website is http://www.mikempadilla.com/and my book page on Facebook is: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/M-Padilla/294677020744

I invite readers to "like" my fan book page so they can keep track of reviews and upcoming books signing of The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review and interview. Will have to check this one out!